D.C. Circuit Ends Two Trump Administration Efforts to Undermine Pollution Protections

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in two cases involving Trump administration actions that would have delayed or undermined pollution protections.

The court ended a Trump-era delay rule that would have postponed protections against unhealthy and climate-damaging pollution from landfills.

The court also scrapped a Trump administration rule that set arbitrary requirements for determining which industrial sectors would be subject to climate pollution limits.

In the first case, the court vacated the Trump delay rule for landfill pollution and remanded the matter to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Landfills emit significant amounts of dangerous and even cancer-causing pollution into disproportionately burdened communities, and are the third largest industrial source of climate-destabilizing methane pollution. The Trump administration’s delay rule caused an unnecessary health risk for all Americans and delayed urgently needed reductions in climate pollution,” said EDF senior attorney Rachel Fullmer. “It’s great news that the court has now fully vacated the rule, and it’s urgent that the Biden administration finalize a plan to reduce landfill pollution nationwide as soon as possible.”

As required by the Clean Air Act, EPA set standards in 2016 that would help protect millions of Americans from landfill pollution. The standards required every state to have a plan in place to implement the standards by November 2017 or elect to be subject to a federal plan. However, for years the Trump EPA went to great lengths to avoid implementing the standards.

Then, in August 2019, the Trump administration finalized a delay rule that would formally extend the deadlines in the 2016 standards. EDF and the states of California, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit opposing that delay rule.

The case was pending and fully briefed when, earlier this month, the Biden Administration asked the court to vacate the delay rule and send the matter back to EPA for further consideration. EDF and the states filed a response supporting the voluntary vacatur and remand of the delay rule.

The D.C. Circuit granted the request and vacated the delay rule.

The court also vacated the Trump Administration’s last-minute rule that would have prevented EPA from setting standards to reduce climate pollution from most stationary sources.

Just a week before leaving office, the Trump administration finalized a rule that would have exempted any category of stationary sources of climate pollution from protective standards unless it contributed three percent or more of the total amount of U.S. climate pollution – an arbitrary amount the administration provided no legal or scientific basis to justify.

“The Trump Administration tried to tie EPA’s hands by setting an arbitrary threshold for when polluters could be regulated,” said EDF senior attorney Rosalie Winn. “This arbitrary threshold was intended to relieve major sources of climate pollution, like oil and gas facilities and refineries, from the responsibility to curb their dangerous emissions. Today’s court decision leaves the Biden administration free to set standards for climate pollution based on solid science and law.”

EDF joined the American Public Health Association, Appalachian Mountain Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club to file suit against the Trump administration. The American Lung Association and a coalition of 20 states also sued.

The Biden administration asked the court to vacate the rule. Today the D.C. Circuit granted the request, and remanded this issue as well to EPA.

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